Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Best Part of this Book Has Yet to be Written

Imagine that after writing approximately 1,000 typed double-spaced pages only to discover that you're writing the wrong character's story, you begin again, writing an actual novel, 400 or so pages. Then, it needs work. Of course it needs work because it's too cheesy and too magical and too goddess-y for what you really like to write and "evoke." Okay, so you revise.

You've titled your novel ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL. Snazzy title! And you've revised it so many times, 17, in fact that you don't know if it's really any good, but when you write the final chapter, you cry, so you think, "This must be good." I'm going to show it to my agent, and she's like, "This is good. We'll pass it to the editor." And then the editor says,

"I love you," BUT
"I don't think the best part of this book has been written yet."

And both the agent and editor tell you (really me, but for some damn reason, I am writing in 2nd person), "Don't worry about it right now. Concentrate on promoting The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors," and you're like, "I can't. I'm mad with the words how Becca in The Handbook... is mad with the paint," so "I have to keep going. I have to figure out what's wrong with this book." So you think and think and think and then it comes to you. It's not the book it's supposed to be yet. You've cheated by not dotting all your I-s or crossing all your T-s. And this month, you've written 150 new pages and you realize this book isn't ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL, it's CONVERSATIONS WITH DEAD PEOPLE.

And you want to throw a parade for your editor, to thank her for having balls enough to tell you the truth, because even though some things are hard to hear, they are also WONDERFUL things to hear.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Clubs and Making Connections

I couldn't have imagined a more stellar group of readers. And, thanks to Regy, for setting up this timed photograph--something totally beyond my abilities. (And note how we match!) This was a great way to spend a Sunday.

From left to right: Julie, Lisa, Nicole, Heidi, Michele (me), Holly, Jessica and Samantha.

In the back standing: Regi and Katie

Today was a feast and delight. It meant so much to me to be with past writer friends, Lisa and Nicole, and the other beautiful ladies were funny, smart and insightful. I look forward to spending more time with all of these gals. I felt embraced and at home.

Thank you! And thanks to the folks at Borders, where I signed books yesterday. I met some wonderful people like Robbie (the third-grade writer), April, mother of two, Wendy, who's in the Richmond Book Club I'm meeting with June 15th, and Deborah, who really needed my book. I felt an immediate connection with Deborah. Since publishing The Handbook, I am meeting so many wonderful people, all of whom reaffirm the messages and themes present in my novel. THANK YOU!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing and Parenting

Victoria Winterhalter, mother, teacher and writer, speaks about the connections between Motherhood and Writing. She has an incredible amount of insight on parenting--all free and accessible at Parenting By the Book, Richmond Family Magazine's blog.

I'm thrilled to have her as my first guest blogger!

Remember that book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum? I feel like everything I really need to know about parenting I learned from being a writer. For my blog, Parenting by the Book, I utilize my experiences as a freelance writer and English teacher just as much as I do those of motherhood because writing, like parenting, is largely based on what you’ve read and what you’ve experienced.

While we hate to admit it, both writing and parenting are learned through trial and error. Author Philip Roth writes, “I often write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that's alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book.” With how hectic parenting can be, this is a hard correlation to accept but one that is real nonetheless. I know when it came to getting my four-year-old to be more independent I’d read numerous books and tried countless tricks. It wasn’t until I blogged about Raising Resilient Children by Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein that my efforts paid off.

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, writes that successful writers don’t “sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars…This is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.” Good writing, like good parenting, is hard work; even the best writers (and parents) feel uninspired from time to time. The key is to ride out your insecurities until you feel confident again for I believe Lamott was right when she wrote “Leap and the net will appear.”

Whether you’re writing, or parenting, you should think about when you are at your best and capitalize on it. Author Toni Morrison writes, “I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best creatively.” I’m a slow starter – at my best creatively in the afternoon; therefore, I’ve trained my kids to play together when they wake up. By the time they are on each other’s nerves, my coffee’s kicked in and I’m ready to play.

Last month, I heard Michele Young-Stone speak at a James River Writers event, and something she said confirmed this suspicion that all I really need to know about parenting I can learn from being a writer. Michele said when she got rejections she’d say she was done with writing while simultaneously putting another query letter in the mail to a potential agent – never giving up on her dream of publication. The reality is published authors succeed in large part because they aren’t afraid to reinvent their project until they find the format that reaches readers. It’s that kind of perseverance that makes for successful parents, too.

Victoria Winterhalter writes the blog Parenting by the Book for Richmond Family Magazine; she reads the parenting books so you don’t have to.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My First Guest Blogger this Friday!

I am excited to host my first ever guest blogger this Friday, May 21st!

Victoria Winterhalter, the blogger for Richmond Family Magazine, will blog about writing and parenting.

Before having kids, she spent ten years teaching English in elementary and middle schools. Since moving to VA with her family, she's taught primarily at John Tyler Community College in Chester - Freshmen Comp. classes, American Literature, and Creative Writing.

Victoria publishes articles on teaching writing in academic journals, but most of the writing she does is related to parenting - first for All About Kids and now for Richmond Family, which is what led to her awesome blog--Parenting by the Book.

Additionally, she spent some time abroad working for the Peace Corps! Which, I think is super cool! She has quite a lot to write about, and her blog is a helpful smart resource for moms and parents.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"I'm on the top of the world looking down on...

creation and the only explanation I can find is the love that I found ever since you've been around, you're what put me on the top of the world!"

When I was a kid, I remember jumping up and down on my bed, imagining I was Karen Carpenter and singing at the top of my lungs.

I had the greatest time in New York. In three days, we did:
a. The Museum of Natural History
b. Arturos on Houston (my favorite pizza) with my editor
c. Bleecker street blues with my sis and friend
d. Reading and book signing and drinks with Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
e. Little Italy and Chinatown
f. FAO Schwartz and the M & M store
g. Saw the Waldorf Astoria with my beautiful cousin and second cousin, Teresa and Cosette
h. Hand-sold my novel at JFK airport to another Richmonder

Heidi Durrow and her husband Darryl were so much fun. Heidi and I both considered how great it would be to book-tour together. She is a real wordsmith. Compelling, funny, wise and beautiful (inside and out). The folks at Word in Brooklyn couldn't have been better hosts. Man, I had a serious blast!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Good Times In Middleburg, Virginia

Saturday, May 8th in Middleburg, Virginia

I signed books at Books & Crannies, a wonderfully friendly and charming bookstore where the owners and manager made sure I felt right at home.

Sadly, the folks at Crown Random House put me up in the cramped accommodation pictured above. I don't know how these publishing people think I can sign books under such conditions. :-)

Not to mention, this crazy blue-eyed man accompanied me. Thank God for the great folks at Books & Crannies for rescuing me. I had a blast. Middleburg is a quaint beautiful town. I met a musician/bartender at Le Bar who made us feel right at home, and Teddy @ Teddy's Pizza made me blush. What a great weekend!

Friday, May 7, 2010


There are so many things that I've wanted to blog about lately, but I've been "mad with the words," revising ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL for the TWELFTH time--not including the 2,000 pages I wrote leading up to these twelve drafts.

That said: REVELATION. The reason that I wanted to be a published novelist is so that I could help people to see the world in a new way. I wanted to make people feel things deeply and appreciate what they have, what they might take for granted. And I wanted to entertain... And I'm driven to do this. I love writing stories!

So, today, I got the following email from a reader:

Favorite line: 'Buckley squeezed Joan Holt's hand.' And his 'Excerpts' are written in such an honest and believable and cute voice....a terrific effort." so keep writing! You put a lot of other current novelists to shame: wit, wisdom and talent for nuance are all there in your work. Right on, sister.

And the following phone call from a friend/reader:

I hadn't read a book in fifteen years, and then I couldn't put yours down. Thank you for making me want to read again.

Oh, and three days ago, I got this email:

I love your book, I'm a lightning strike survivor too, I bought your book in a trip to Washington but I live in Caracas, Venezuela. Thank you for giving me the impulse to write in spanish my own story. Congratulations!!! Looking forward for your second book. Best regards

For the record, I am all torn up! There were years when I thought I'd never publish. I am so happy that people are enjoying my words.

AND... Check out my guest spot on Coffee with a Canine. It's too fun!

Monday, May 3, 2010


I am revising my latest book today, and I am tossing whole chapters. Kill the little darlings is what Faulkner said, and I'm doing it. These aren't even little darlings, these are big darlings, but I think and I hope that in the end, I will be all the better for it. I used to say that I wrote 1,000 pages for every 100 I keep. I'm going to have to up that number to 2,000 pages for every 100 pages.

I'm proud of myself, but I'm also sort of scared.

What's the worst case scenario? I go back to the last draft.

I can do it! You can do it!